Skip to main content

Full text of "Tales of mystery and imagination"

See other formats

Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, 
In thy most need to go by thy side. 

This is No. 336 of Everyman's Library. A 
list of authors and their works in this series 
will be found at the end of this volume. The 
publishers will be pleased to send freely to all 
applicants a separate, annotated list of the 









EDGAR ALLAN POE, born in Boston, 
U.S.A., on igth January 1809. Brought 
up as an adopted child ; educated in England 
and Virginia. Abandoned a business career; 
was dismissed for neglect of duty from West 
Point Academy (1831), and thereafter sup 
ported himself by writing. Most of his 
life was spent in poverty, and he died on 
8th October 1849 in Baltimore. 


All rights reserved 

Made in Great Britain 

at The Temple Press Letchworth 

and decorated by Eric Rarilious 


J. M. Dent <_ Sons Ltd. 
Aldine House Bedford St. London 
First Published in this Edition 1908 
Reprinted 1909, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1916 
1917, 1921, 1925, 1928, 



WHEN we say that Poe's imagination moves amongst excep 
tional things, we imply that he is familiar by temperament 
with the matter proper to the brief narrative or tale. The 
tale, on account of its brevity, is precluded from expounding 
facts and experiences that are socially important; therefore 
it deals with the exceptional with something that arrests 
our curiosity from the start. It was a French critic, M. 
Brunetiere, who noticed the social insignificance of the 
incident upon which the tale is based; and he has pointed 
out that the material for the tale is to be sought in " certain 
peculiarities or variations of passion, which, though physiologi 
cally or pathologically interesting, are socially insignificant," 
and M. Brunetiere goes on to say that the incident is never 
taken out of the mainway of life, but out of its border 
" things that happen on the margin," M. Brunetiere says 

That phrase " on the margin " admirably describes the 
whole of Poe's imaginative work, his verse as well as his prose. 
It is marginal, not central ; it comes, not out of the mainway 
of life, but out of the border of existence. Poe gives us ex 
periences that are on the margin of sanity, or on the border of 
unconsciousness. He reports, with extraordinary literalness 
and lucidity, the last swoon of the nerves, as in the passage 
where he describes the sensations of one who has just been 
sentenced by the Inquisition. 

" The sentence the dread sentence of death was the last 
of distinct accentuation which reached my ears. After that 
the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one 
dreamy, indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul the 
idea of revolution perhaps from its association in fancy with 
the burr of a mill wheel. This only for a brief period, for 
presently I heard no more. Yet, for a while I saw but with 
how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of the black- 
robed judges. They appeared to me white whiter than the 


viii Introduction 

sheet upon which I trace these words and thin even to 
grotesqueness ; thin with the intensity of their expression oi 
firmness of immovable resolution of stern contempt of 
human torture. I saw that decrees of what to me was Fate 
were still issuing from those lips. I saw them writhe with a 
deadly locution. I saw them fashion the syllables of my 
name, and I shuddered because no sound succeeded. I saw, 
too, for a few moments of delirious horror, the soft and nearly 
imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped 
the walls of the apartment. And then my vision fell upon the 
seven tall candles upon the table. At first they wore the 
aspect of charity, and seemed white slender angels who would 
save me; but then, all at once, there came a most deadly 
nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill 
as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery, while the 
angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame, 
and I saw that from them there would be no help. And then 
there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought 
of what sweet rest there must be in the grave." 

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, U.S.A., on January 
19, 1809. Certain peculiarities in his work have been put 
down to racial tendencies, for his father, though American 
born, was of Irish descent. But we notice the profession of 
the parents as a fact more immediate than their racial deriva 
tion. Both parents were actors, and the stage seems to have 
been in keeping with certain tendencies in the father. He 
seems to have been a Bohemian, or rather a vagabond. It is 
said that he had made an imprudent marriage; it is fairly 
certain that he deserted his wife before the child Edgar was 
born. The mother died when Poe was two years old, and 
Edgar, one of her three children, was adopted by a childless 
pair, the Allans, wealthy Scotch folk of Richmond in Virginia. 
Four years later the Allans made a tour through Ireland, 
Scotland and England. They settled in England for a while, 
and young Edgar Allan, now six years of age, was given five 
years' schooling at Stoke Newington. Ke was eleven when 
he returned to America with the Allans, and we hear of him 
afterwards as a youngster at the Richmond school, brilliant 
indeed, but defiant, irritable and solitary " a descendant of a 
race whose imaginative and easily excitable temperament has 
at all times rendered them remarkable," as he says, in what 
seems to be an autobiographical note. 

Poe, as a youth, had a rare aptitude for athletic feats, and 

Introduction ix 

Baudelaire notes with satisfaction that, though made with the 
feet and hands of a woman, Poe was capable of great muscular 
exertion; as a youth he excelled his contemporaries in swim 
ming. He had high personal distinction; he was graceful, 
good-looking, and endowed with noticeable eloquence. He 
was fond of dramatic recitation. Once he recited some 
speeches out of Julius Ceesar, impersonating Cassius, and he 
gave his audience the impression that he was "a born actor." 
This evidence of declamatory power is interesting, and the 
reminiscence of the theatre accounts for a great deal in Poe's 
work. At seventeen he was sent to the University of Virginia. 
Here he won high honours in Latin and French, but within a 
year he was withdrawn on account of some gambling trans 
actions. We may be sure that Edgar Allan Poe was loth to let 
his eighteenth year pass unmarked ; unlike most young literary 
aspirants he succeeded in making it memorable. He went up 
to Boston and published a book verse, of course Tamer 
lane and Other Poems (1827). Mr. Allan seems to have in 
terested himself in this volume, but soon after the publication 
of Tamerlane there came a breach between the poet and his 
patron. Edgar Allan Poe now entered the army of the 
United States, and in two years he had risen to the rank of 
sergeant-major. He was now twenty; his foster-mother 
died, and then there came a reconciliation between Edgar and 
Mr. Allan. In 1830 he entered the College at West Point as 
a military cadet. Meanwhile (1829) he had published his 
second volume. It contained Tamerlane (re- written) and Al 
Aaraaf. His conduct at the Military College was considered 
irregular, and he was dismissed in 1 83 1 . Affairs had now taken 
a serious turn. Mr. Allan had married again ; this time he was 
blessed with offspring, and his wife knew not Edgar Allan. 
Poe insisted upon seeing his foster-parent, but the interview 
led only to a definite breach. When he left Allan's house he 
seems to have turned his back on settled ways of living. It is 
curious that he did not at this point try the stage; it would 
have fitted his temperament and his gifts; but perhaps the 
career of his parents had biassed him against the theatre. He 
published a third book of verse, poems old and new, and we 
hear of him next in Baltimore. He went into the office of the 
Saturday Visitor to claim a prize he had won with the story, 
A MS. found in a Bottle, and it was noticed that his coat was 
fastened to hide a lack of shirt, and that his face bore traces of 
illness and destitution. Afterwards he got an engagement on 

* 336 

x Introduction 

the Southern Literary Messenger, and he returned to his native 
Richmond. It was in The Messenger that he first published 
the studies Berenice and Morella, reveries belonging to the 
Ligeia group, and connected in theme with The MS. found in 
a Bottle, and the splendid Fall of the House of Usher. He did 
literary criticisms for this paper and eventually became 
assistant editor. At twenty-six he married his cousin, 
Virginia Clemm, a girl of fourteen. He made some reputation 
in Richmond, but he left the place in 1837, sanguine of a New 
York success. The New York Review, however, did little for 
him, and Poe and his wife had to move on to Philadelphia. 
There he published various tales, including Ligeia, William 
Wilson, and The Fall of the House of Usher. In 1839, Tales of 
the Grotesque and the Arabesque, Poe's first collection, were 
given to the public, and then for a while he occupied himself 
with analytical subjects, writing a great deal about crypto 
grams, and exercising bis extraordinary analytical talent in 
solving those sent to the paper. His power of analysis enabled 
him to invent something new in the narrative form, The 
Murders in the Rue Morgue, contributed to Graham's Magazine 
in April 1841. This remarkable story was followed by A 
Descent into the Maelstrom. By this time he had won a place 
for himself in Philadelphia; he was the editor of Graham's 
Magazine, and he was known as the author of some tales that 
had made a stir in London and Paris. 

But in 1842 he left Philadelphia under the influence of a 
tragedy more pitiful and terrible than any tragedy in literary 
history. His wife had burst a blood vessel while singing. 
Poe took leave of her for ever. He underwent all the agonies 
of her death, but she recovered and he was delivered to the 
torture of hope. The vessel broke again, and again, and even 
once again! He drank to escape from the terrible suspense. 
He was a man sensitive and nervous to an abnormal degree, 
and he loved his wife with a passion that went beyond the 
grave. " I became insane," he said, " with long intervals of 
horrible sanity. ... I drank God only knows how often or 
how much. As a matter of course my enemies referred the 
insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity." 
He could do no work under those agonising conditions, and he 
lost the editorship of Graham's Magazine. His wife died in 
1847. Poe was only. thirty-eight, but his life was over. He 
occupied himself with a work which was to explain the uni 
verse, Eureka. We can say of Eureka that it gave its author 

Introduction xi 

solace, and that it is a medley which Baudelaire has taken 
seriously. He died on October 8, 1849, and his end must have 
seemed the height of tragic mockery to the divine spectator of 
the pessimists. He came into New York city and fell in with 
a gang of ruffians who were rushing some election business. 
They seized the unfortunate man, plied him with drink, put 
papers into his hand and dragged him round the booths. His 
friends found him dying in some sordid place. It remains to 
be said that his Literary executor disapproved of Poe's tempera 
ment and Poe's methods. And he treated the poet with a 
rigour that reads like malignity. 


There is a distinction seldom made in criticism between the 
short story and the tale. This distinction can best be seen in 
examples; thus Maupassant's Vain Beauty is a short story, 
and A Piece of String by the same author is a tale. There is a 
difference in the extent of the narratives, and there is a differ 
ence in the value of the respective incidents upon which the 
narratives are based. A Piece of String could not be ex 
panded by " complications and diversities of many episodes 
and details " without attributing to the incident " an import 
ance which, socially and historically, it does not possess." 
But the incident in Vain Beauty might be expanded without 
investing it with an undue importance. It is curious that 
M. Bruneti^re (whose notes on the NOUVELLE I have been 
quoting), does not make a distinction between the short 
story and the tale. His notes apply to the tale rather than 
to the short story. Yet though the substance of the tale 
is amongst " peculiarities or variations of passion," it is 
not the less effective on this account. It is the most 
ancient of compositions, the most wide -spread, the most 
immediately interesting; through its brevity it can be made 
the most perfect of prose forms. Edgar Allan Poe was well 
aware of the high place that the tale must always hold in 
literature, and his intimate knowledge of exceptional things, 
together with his sense of form and language, have enabled 
him to produce some of the world's best tales The Cask of 
Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House 
of Usher, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Gold Bug, 
William Wilson, Ligeia. In The Murders in the Rut Morgu* 

xii Introduction 

and in The Gold Bug, Poe brought a new and fascinating method 
into the narrative a method which has been re-discovered in 
our own day and used with much public success. The Cask of 
A montillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, and Ligeia are so rounded 
and so perfect that they offer no crevice for the critical knife. 
William Wilson is perhaps the least impeccable of these tales ; 
one notices a certain staginess here a theatricality that 
flaunts out in the speech of the last encounter. " Scoundrel," 
I said, in a voice husky with rage ..." Scoundrel, impostor, 
accursed villain! You shall not you shall not dog me unto 
death! Follow me, or I will stab you where you stand." 
The theatricality in this speech is but the excess of a quality 
shown abundantly in William Wilson the quality of drama 
tisation. All the speeches carry across the footlights and all 
the situations are visualised as if for the stage. But the situa 
tions and speeches in William Wilson are not the most notice 
able instance of Poe's faculty for dramatisation. There is 
that memorable scene which prepares the reader for the tragic 
return of the Lady Madeline in The Fall of the House of Usher. 
This scene is conceived as a dramatist would conceive it. The 
reading of the romance, the stressing of the passages which 
correspond with the unseen drama is a device well known to 
the dramatist. Poe has the dramatist's faculty for projecting 
situations and he has also the faculty of anticipating difficul 
ties that are peculiar to the dramatic action. Several instances 
of this could be given from the tales that follow instances of 
that suspended or retrospective action which is more necessary 
in a play than in a narrative. The theatre would, I am con 
vinced, have given full scope for Poe's genius. He could not 
have reached it through his poetic talent, but he could have 
reached it through the invention which he has shown hi The 
Cask of Amontillado. Poe could have done perfectly a form 
of work which perhaps he had no models for at the time the 
" thrill " of the French vaudeville. It is a matter for regret 
that he did not come into contact with the theatre; for, with 
his delight hi novelty, with his wonderful ingenuity, he could 
have added many devices to the dramatist's stock. But his 
spirit has not been quite shut out from the theatre. Surely 
the dramatist of the Plays for Marionettes owes a good deal to 
The House of Usher, with its elaborate atmosphere, and its 
remote and agonising situations. 

In considering the drama of The Fall of the House of Usher, 
we are brought into contact with Poe's dominant idea. Part 

Introduction xiii 

of this idea is expressed explicitly in his favourite tale, Ligeia. 
Ligeia belongs to that group of studies of which Eleanor a is 
the most charming, Berenice the most repulsive, and Moretta 
the least noteworthy. Ligeia is less a tale than a prose poem ; 
it is a reverie, a meditation upon that mystical sentence of 
Joseph Glanville's " And the will therein lieth, which dieth 
not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigour ? 
For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its 
intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor 
unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his 
feeble will." It was Poe's conviction that consciousness per 
sisted even in the grave, and that the will, because of some 
great passion, could resist dissolution, and that the persistence 
of the human will gave sentience to inanimate things. Thus 
the walls of the house of Usher and the tarn beyond have been 
given a sort of organisation and in A MS. found in a Bottle the 
ship that holds the ancient voyagers has grown in bulk. 

Poe's mentality was a rare synthesis; he had elements in 
him that corresponded with the indefiniteness of music and 
the exactitude of mathematics. He was a penetrating critic 
of literature, and he could have written well on aesthetics and 
psychology ; I have already dwelt upon his sense of the theatre. 
He desired to be striking and original as the great creators 
desire to be sincere, and because of that rare synthesis of his 
mind (helped out, it must be said, by a wonderful ingenuity), 
he succeeded in making forms and formulas that have in- 
iiuenced a definite side of literature. His often-quoted dictum 
that poetry cannot be sustained in the epic form has forced 
many poets (Whitman amongst them) to reconsider the poetic 
form. His achievements in verse and his theories of versifi 
cation influenced an important literary movement in France, 
and that movement has reacted on contemporary English 
literature. He made the idea of " atmosphere " self-conscious 
in literary art. The Murders in the Rue Morgue and William 
Wilson have been models for such diverse writers as Conan 
Doyle and Oscar Wilde. He is popularly regarded as the type 
of the imaginative man, but those who have come into contact 
with his mind have reason to believe that his critical faculties 
were in excess of his imaginative and creative faculties. In 
The Domain of Arnheim he says some subtle thing on our ideas 
of the beautiful. His aesthetics, however, are a little strained 
by the undue importance he gives to strangeness as an element 
of beauty. He was a psychologist in the critical rather than 

xiv Introduction 

In the creative sense, and had a deep knowledge of the mental 
movements connected with fear. In Arthur Gordon Pym he 
has some enlightening observations on the effect of a ghostly 

" Usually, in cases of a similar nature, there is left in the 
mind of the spectator some glimmering of doubt as to the 
reality of the vision before his eyes ; a degree of hope, however 
feeble, that he is the victim of chicanery, and that the appari 
tion is not actually a visitant from the old world of shadows. 
It is not too much to say that such remnants of doubt have 
been at the bottom of almost every such visitation, and that 
the appalling horror which has sometimes been brought about 
is to be attributed, even in the cases most in point, and where 
most suffering has been experienced, more to a kind of anti- 
cipative horror, lest the apparition might possibly be real, than 
to an unwavering belief in its reality." 

This reads like an authentic pronouncement from a chair 
of psychology. And in The Fall of the House of Usher he has 
a sentence which anticipates, even in its formal presentment, 
a recently formulated law of the American psychologists 
" There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid 
increase of iny superstition . . . served mainly to accelerate 
the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the para 
doxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis." 

Edgar Allan Poe has written some gloomy tales and several 
morbid tales, but his lines, 

" The play is the tragedy Man, 
And the hero the conquering Worm," 

do not represent his normal opinion. He has told us that 
" in general, it is from the violation of a few simple laws of 
humanity, arises the wretchedness of mankind that as a 
species we have in our possession the as yet unwrought 
elements of content." His Mr. Ellison admitted but four 
principles or conditions of bliss free exercise in the open air. 
the love of some lovable woman, a contempt of ambition, and 
an object of unceasing pursuit. " He held that, other things 
being equal, the extent of attainable happiness was in propor 
tion to the spirituality of this object." 



April 1908. 

Introduction xv 

The following is a list of his published works: 

Tamerlane and other Poems, 1827; new edition with additions, " Al 
Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems," 1829; Poems, 1831; A Manuscript 
found in a Bottle (prize tale for the Baltimore Saturday Visitor), 1833; 
Coliseum, Poem, 1833 (prize poem for same, but ruled out as being by 
author of prize tale) ; Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pyrn (partly from the 
Messenger, 1838; Conchologist's First Book (from Thomas Wyatt's 
Manual of Conchology), 1839; Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque, 
1839; Prediction of the Plot of Barnaby Rudge (Saturday Evening Post), 
1841; Murders in the Rue Morgue (Graham's Magazine), 1841; The Gold 
Bug (prize offered by the Dollar Newspaper), 1843; Balloon Hoax (in the 
Sun), 1844; Tales, 1845; The Raven (Evening Mirror), 1845; The Raven 
and other Poems, 1845 ; Eureka, a prose Poem (elaborated from his lecture 
on the Cosmogony of the Universe), 1848. 

Some of Poe's best tales and poems were first published in the Southern 
Literary Messenger, 1835, of which magazine he became editor, but resigned 
the post in 1837; other tales appeared in Graham's Magazine, of which 
fie was for a time editor-in-chief. He was also a contributor to the New 
York Review, Broadway Journal, and Godey's Lady's Book. 

WORKS. First collection, ed. R. W. Griswold (with memoir), three vols., 
1850; four vols., 1856; ed. H. Curwen (with life from French of C. Baude 
laire), 1872; R. H. Stoddard (with memoir), 1873, 1884, 1896; J. H. 
Ingram (with memoir), 1874-5; newly collected and edited by E. C. Sted- 
man and G. E. Woodberry, 1895; in World's Classics, 1902, etc. 

Poetical works, ed. J . Hannay, 1852, 1863; E. F. Blanchard, 1857; C. F. 
Briggs, 1858; Memorial edition, Poems and Essays (including memoir), 
by J. H. Ingram, Prof. Lowell, and Willis, 1876* Poems and Essays, with 
an essay on his poetry by Andrew Lang, 1881; Poems and Essays, ed. 
Lfgram, 1884; with biographical sketch by N. H. Dole, 1895, 1905; with 
introduction by H. N. Williams, 1900; with critical memoir by S. Cody, 
1903; with introduction by Arthur Symons, 1904; and other editions in 
collections of classics. 

LIFE. Sarah H. Whitman, "Edgar Poe and His Critics," 1859; E. L. 
Didier, 1876; W. F. Gill, 1877; J. H. Ingram, "Life, Letters, and 
Opinions," 1880; G. E. Woodberry (American Men of Letters), 1885; J. 
A. Joyce, 1901; J. A. Harrison. " Life and Letters," 1903. 











THE MAN OF THE CROWD ....... 101 

SHADOW ........... 109 

SILENCE . . . . . . .HI 




THE ASSIGNATION ......... 145 

LlGEIA ........... 155 

/ ELEONORA .......... 169 

BERENICE .......... i?5 

MORELLA ........... 182 





METZENGERSTEIN . ........ 213 




MS. FOUND IN A BOTTLE ........ 258 



THX TELL-TALE HEART ........ 289 


2 Contents 


MELLONTA TAUTA ......... 294 



THE SPECTACLES ......... 333 

X-INO A PARAGRAB . . .. . . . . . 355 

THE IMP or THE PERVERSE .'' u ; . . . . . 361 

THS BALLOON HOAX ........ 367 




"THOU ART THE MAN" ........ 471 

Loss OF BREATH 484 

BON-BON .. . . . . . . . . 496 


THE BLACK CAT ;,-.;*-.'.. 518 



What say of it? what say of CONSCIENCE grim, 
That spectre in my path ? 


LET me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair 
page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appel 
lation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn 
for the horror for the detestation of my race. To the 
uttermost regions of the globe have not the indignant winds 
bruited its unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast of all outcasts 
most abandoned ! to the earth art thou not forever dead ? to 
its honours, to its flowers, to its golden aspirations? and a 
cloud, dense, dismal, and limitless, does it not hang eternally 
between thy hopes and heaven? 

I would not, if I could, here or to-day, embody a record of 
my later years of unspeakable misery, and unpardonable crime. 
This epoch these later years took unto themselves a sudden 
elevation in turpitude, whose origin alone it is my present pur 
pose to assign. Men usuallly grow base by degrees. From me, 
in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle. From 
comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a 
giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus. What 
chance what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear 
with me while I relate. Death approaches; and the shadow 
which foreruns him has thrown a softening influence over my 
spirit. I long, in passing through the dim valley, for the sym 
pathy I had nearly said for the pity of my fellow-men. I 
would fain have them believe that I have been, in some measure, 
the slave of circumstances beyond human control. I would 
wish them to seek out for me, in the details I am about to give, 
some little oasis of fatality amid a wilderness of error. I would 
have them allow what they cannot refrain from allowing 
that, although temptation may have erewhile existed as great, 
man was never thus, at least, tempted before certainly, never 


4 Poe's Tales 

thus fell. And is it therefore that he has never thus suffered ? 
Have I not indeed been living in a dream ? And am I not now 
dying a victim to the horror and the mystery of the wildest of all 
sublunary visions? 

I am the descendant of a race whose imaginative and easily 
excitable temperament has at all times rendered them remark 
able; and, in my earliest infancy, I gave evidence of having 
fully inherited the family character. As I advanced in years it 
was more strongly developed; becoming, for many reasons, a 
cause of serious disquietude to my friends, and of positive injury 
to myself. I grew self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, 
and a prey to the most ungovernable passions. Weak-minded, 
and beset with constitutional infirmities akin to my own, my 
parents could do but little to check the evil propensities which 
distinguished me. Some feeble and ill-directed efforts resulted 
in complete failure on their part, and, of course, in total triumph 
on mine. Thenceforward my voice was a household law; and 
at an age when few children have abandoned their leading- 
strings, I was left to the guidance of my own will, and became, 
in all but name, the master of my own actions. 

My earliest recollections of a school-life, are connected with a 
large, rambling, Elizabethan house, in a misty-looking village of 
England, where were a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, 
and where all the houses were excessively ancient. In truth, it 
was a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old 
town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the refreshing chilliness 
of its deeply-shadowed avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thou 
sand shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefinable delight, at 
the deep hollow note of the church-bell, breaking, each hour, 
with sullen and sudden roar, upon the stillness of the dusky 
atmosphere in which the fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded 
and asleep. 

It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as I can now in any 
manner experience, to dwell upon minute recollections of the 
school and its concerns. Steeped in misery as I am misery, 
alas 1 only too real I shall be pardoned for seeking relief, how 
ever slight and temporary, in the weakness of a few rambling 
details. These, moreover, utterly trivial, and even ridiculous 
in themselves, assume, to my fancy, adventitious importance, as 
connected with a period and a locality when and where I recog 
nise the first ambiguous monitions of the destiny which after 
wards so fully overshadowed me. Let me then remember. 

The house, I have said, was old and irregular. The grounds 

William Wilson 5 

were extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with a 
bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This 
prison-like rampart formed the limit of our domain; beyond it 
we saw but thrice a week once every Saturday afternoon, when, 
attended by two ushers, we were permitted to take brief walks 
in a body through some of the neighbouring fields and twice 
during Sunday, when we were paraded in the same formal 
manner to the morning and evening service in the one church 
of the village. Of this church the principal of our school was 
pastor. With how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I 
wont to regard him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with 
step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit! This reverend 
man, with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy 
and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so 
rigid and so vast, could this be he who, of late, with sour visage, 
and in snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the 
Draconian laws of the academy? Oh, gigantic paradox, too 
utterly monstrous for solution! 

At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned a more ponderous 
gate. It was riveted and studded with iron bolts, and sur 
mounted with jagged iron spikes. What impressions of deep 
awe did it inspire! It was never opened save for the three 
periodical egressions and ingressions already mentioned; then, 
in every creak of its mighty hinges, we found a plenitude of 
mystery a world of matter for solemn remark, or for more 
solemn meditation. 

The extensive enclosure was irregular in form, having many 
capacious recesses. Of these, three or four of the largest con 
stituted the play-ground. It was level, and covered with fine 
hard gravel. I well remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor 
anything similar within it. Of course it was in the rear of the 
house. In front lay a small parterre, planted with box and 
other shrubs; but through this sacred division we passed only 
upon rare occasions indeed such as a first advent to school or 
final departure thence, or perhaps, when a parent or friend 
having called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the 
Christmas or Midsummer holidays. 

But the house! how quaint an old building was this! to 
me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really 
no end to its windings to its incomprehensible subdivisions. 
It was difficult, at any given time, to say with certainty upon 
which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room 
to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps 

6 Poc's Tales 

either in ascent or descent. Then the lateral branches were in 
numerable inconceivable and so returning in upon them 
selves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion 
were not very far different from those with which we pondered 
upon infinity. During the five years of my residence here, I 
was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote 
locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and 
some eighteen or twenty other scholars. 

The school-room was the largest in the house I could not 
help thinking, in the world. It was very long, narrow, and 
dismally low, with pointed Gothic windows and a ceiling of oak. 
In a remote and terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure 
of eight or ten feet, comprising the sanctum, " during hours," 
of our principal, the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid 
structure, with massy door, sooner than open which in the 
absence of the " Dominie," we would all have willingly perished 
by the peine forte et dure. In other angles were two other simi 
lar boxes, far less reverenced, indeed, but still greatly matters 
of awe. One of these was the pulpit of the " classical " usher, 
one of the " English and mathematical." Interspersed about 
the room, crossing and recrossing in endless irregularity, were 
innumerable benches and desks, black, ancient, and time- 
worn, piled desperately with much-bethumbed books, and so 
beseamed with initial letters, names at full length, grotesque 
figures, and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have 
entirely lost what little of original form might have been their 
portion in days long departed. A huge bucket with water 
stood at one extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous 
dimensions at the other. 

Encompassed by the massy walls of this venerable academy, 
I passed, yet not in tedium or disgust, the years of the third 
lustrum of my life. The teeming brain of childhood requires no 
external world of incident to occupy or amuse it; and the appar 
ently dismal monotony of a school was replete with more intense 
excitement than my riper youth has derived from luxury, or 
my full manhood from crime. Yet I must believe that my first 
mental development had in it much of the uncommon even 
much of the outre. Upon mankind at large the events of very 
early existence rarely leave in mature age any definite impression. 
All is grey shadow a weak and irregular remembrance an 
indistinct regathering of feeble pleasures and phantasmagoric 
pains. With me this is not so. In childhood I must have felt 
with the energy of a man what I now find stamped upon memory 

William Wilson 7 

in lines as vivid, as deep, and as durable as the exergues of the 
Carthaginian medals. 

Yet in fact in the fact of the world's view how little was 
there to remember! The morning's awakening, the nightly 
summons to bed; the connings, the recitations; the periodical 
half -holidays, and perambulations; the play-ground, with its 
broils, its pastimes, its intrigues; these, by a mental sorcery 
long forgotten, were made to involve a wilderness of sensation, a 
world of rich incident, an universe of varied emotion, of excite 
ment the most passionate and spirit-stirring. "Oh, le bon 
temps, que ce siecle de fer I " 

In truth, the ardour, the enthusiasm, and the imperiousness 
of my disposition, soon rendered me a marked character among 
my schoolmates, and by slow, but natural gradations, gave 
me an ascendency over all not greatly older than myself; over 
all with a single exception. This exception was found in the 
person of a scholar, who, although no relation, bore the same 
Christian and surname as myself; a circumstance, in fact, 
little remarkable; for, notwithstanding a noble descent, mine 
was one of those every-day appellations which seem, by pre 
scriptive right, to have been, time out of mind, the common 
property of the mob. In this narrative I have therefore desig 
nated myself as William Wilson, a fictitious title not very dis 
similar to the real. My namesake alone, of those who in school 
phraseology constituted " our set," presumed to compete with 
me in the studies of the class in the sports and broils of the 
play-ground to refuse implicit belief in my assertions, and 
submission to my will indeed, to interfere with my arbitrary 
dictation in any respect whatsoever. If there is on earth a 
supreme and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a 
master mind in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its 

Wilson's rebellion was to me a source of the greatest em 
barrassment; the more so as, in spite of the bravado with 
which in public I made a point of treating him and his pre 
tensions, I secretly felt that I feared him, and could not help 
thinking the equality which he maintained so easily with myself, 
a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome cost 
me a perpetual struggle. Yet this superiority even this 
equality was in truth acknowledged by no one but myself; 
our associates, by some unaccountable blindness, seemed not 
even to suspect it. Indeed, his competition, his resistance, 
and especially his impertinent and dogged interference with my 

8 Poc's Tales 

purposes, were not more pointed than private. He appeared 
to be destitute alike of the ambition which urged, and of the 
passionate energy of mind which enabled me to excel. In his 
rivalry he might have been supposed actuated solely by a 
whimsical desire to thwart, astonish, or mortify myself; 
although there were times when I could not help observing, with 
a feeling made up of wonder, abasement, and pique, that he 
mingled with his injuries, his insults, or his contradictions, a 
certain most inappropriate, and assuredly most unwelcome 
affectionateness of manner. I could only conceive this singular 
behaviour to arise from a consummate self-conceit assuming 
the vulgar air of patronage and protection. 

Perhaps it was this latter trait in Wilson's conduct, conjoined 
with our identity of name, and the mere accident of our having 
entered the school upon the same day, which set afloat the 
notion that we were brothers, among the senior classes in the 
academy. These do not usually inquire with much strictness 
into the affairs of their juniors. I have before said, or should 
have said, that Wilson was not, in the most remote degree, 
connected with my family. But assuredly if we had been 
brothers we must have been twins; for, after leaving Dr. 
Bransby's, I casually learned that my namesake was born on 
the nineteenth of January, 1813 and this is a somewhat 
remarkable coincidence; for the day is precisely that of my 
own nativity. 

It may seem strange that in spite of the continual anxiety 
occasioned me by the rivalry of Wilson, and his intolerable 
spirit of contradiction, I could not bring myself to hate him 
altogether. We had, to be sure, nearly every day a quarrel hi 
which, yielding me publicly the palm of victory, he, in some 
manner, contrived to make me feel that it was he who had 
deserved it; yet a sense of pride on my part, and a veritable 
dignity on his own, kept us always upon what are called " speak 
ing terms," while there were many points of strong congeniality 
in our tempers, operating to awake hi me a sentiment which 
our position alone, perhaps, prevented from ripening into 
friendship. It is difficult, indeed, to define, or even to describe, 
my real feelings towards him. They formed a motley and 
heterogeneous admixture; some petulant animosity, which 
was not yet hatred, some esteem, more respect, much fear, with 
a world of uneasy curiosity. To the moralist it will be un 
necessary to say, in addition, that Wilson and myself were the 
most inseparable of companions. 

William Wilson 9 

It was no doubt the anomalous state of affairs existing be 
tween us, which turned all my attacks upon him (and they 
were many, either open or covert) into the channel of banter or 
practical joke (giving pain while assuming the aspect of mere 
fun) rather than into a more serious and determined hostility. 
But my endeavours on this head were by no means uniformly 
successful, even when my plans were the most wittily concocted ; 
for my namesake had much about him, in character, of that 
unassuming and quiet austerity which, while enjoying the 
poignancy of its own jokes, has no heel of Achilles in itself, and 
absolutely refuses to be laughed at. I could find, indeed, but 
one vulnerable point, and that, lying in a personal peculiarity, 
arising, perhaps, from constitutional disease, would have been 
spared by any antagonist less at his wit's end than myself 
my rival had a weakness in the faucial or guttural organs, 
which precluded him from raising his voice at any time above a 
very low whisper. Of this defect I did not fail to take what 
poor advantage lay in my power. 

Wilson's retaliations in kind were many; and there was one 
form of his practical wit that disturbed me beyond measure. 
How his sagacity first discovered at all that so petty a thing 
would vex me, is a question I never could solve; but, having 
discovered, he habitually practised the annoyance. I had 
always felt aversion to my uncourtly patronymic, and its very 
common, if not plebeian praenomen. The words were venom 
in my ears; and when, upon the day of my arrival, a second 
William Wilson came also to the academy, I felt angry with 
him for bearing the name, and doubly disgusted with the name 
because a stranger bore it, who would be the cause of its two 
fold repetition, who would be constantly in my presence, and 
whose concerns, in the ordinary routine of the school business, 
must inevitably, on account of the detestable coincidence, be 
often confounded with my own. 

The feeling of vexation thus engendered grew stronger with 
every circumstance tending to show resemblance, moral or 
physical, between my rival and myself. I had not then dis 
covered the remarkable fact that we were of the same age ; but 
I saw that we were of the same height, and I perceived that we 
were even singularly alike in general contour of person and out 
line of feature. I was galled, too, by the rumour touching a 
relationship, which had grown current in the upper forms. In 
a word, nothing could more seriously disturb me (although I 
scrupulously concealed such disturbance), than any allusion to 

io Poe's Tales 

a similailty of mind, person, or condition existing between us. 
But, In truth, I had no reason to believe that (with the excep 
tion of the matter of relationship, and in the case of Wilson 
himself) this similarity had ever been made a subject of com 
ment, or even observed at all by our schoolfellows. That he 
observed it in all Its bearings, and as fixedly as I, was apparent; 
but that he could discover In such circumstances so fruitful a 
field of annoyance, can only be attributed, as I said before, to 
his more than ordinary penetration. 

His cue, which was to perfect an imitation of myself, lay both 
in words and hi actions; and most admirably did he play his 
part. My dress it was an easy matter to copy; my gait and 
general manner were, without difficulty, appropriated ; in spite 
of his constitutional defect, even my voice did not escape him. 
My louder tones were, of course, unattempted, but then the key, 
it was identical; and his singular whisper, it grew the very echo 
/ my own. 

How greatly this most exquisite portraiture harassed me (for 
it could not justly be termed a caricature), I will not now 
venture to describe. I had but one consolation In the fact that 
the imitation, apparently, was noticed by myself alone, and 
that I had to endure only the knowing and strangely sarcastic 
smiles of my namesake himself. Satisfied with having pro 
duced in my bosom the Intended effect, he seemed to chuckle 
in secret over the sting he had inflicted, and was characteristi 
cally disregardful of the public applause which the success of his 
witty endeavours might have so easily elicited. That the 
school, indeed, did not feel his design, perceive its accomplish 
ment, and participate in his sneer, was, for many anxious 
months, a riddle I could not resolve. Perhaps the gradation of 
his copy rendered it not so readily perceptible; or, more possibly, 
I owed my security to the masterly air of the copyist, who, 
disdaining the letter (which in a painting is all the obtuse can 
see), gave but the full spirit of his original for my individual 
contemplation and chagrin. 

I have already more than once spoken of the disgusting air 
of patronage which he assumed toward me, and of his frequent 
officious interference with my will. This interference often took 
the ungracious character of advice; advice not openly given, 
but hinted or insinuated. I received it with a repugnance 
which gained strength as I grew in years. Yet, at this distant 
day, let me do him the simple justice to acknowledge that I can 
recall no occasion when the suggestions of my rival were on the 

William Wilson 1 1 

side of those errors or follies so usual to his immature age and 
seeming inexperience; that his moral sense, at least, if not his 
general talents and worldly wisdom, was far keener than my 
own; and that I might, to-day, have been a better, and thus a 
happier man, had I less frequently rejected the counsels em 
bodied in those meaning whispers which I then but too cordially 
hated and too bitterly despised. 

As it was, I at length grew restive in the extreme under his 
distasteful supervision, and daily resented more and more 
openly what I considered his intolerable arrogance. I have 
said that, in the first years of our connection as schoolmates, my 
feelings in regard to him might have been easily ripened into 
friendship: but, in the latter months of my residence at the 
academy, although the intrusion of his ordinary manner had, 
beyond doubt, in some measure, abated, my sentiments, in 
nearly similar proportion, partook very much of positive hatred. 
Upon one occasion he saw this, I think, and afterwards avoided, 
or made a show of avoiding me. 

It was about the same period, if I remember aright, that, in 
an altercation of violence with him, in which he was more than 
usually thrown off his guard, and spoke and acted with an open 
ness of demeanour rather foreign to his nature, I discovered, or 
fancied I discovered, in his accent, his air, and general appear 
ance, a something which first startled, and then deeply interested 
me, by bringing to mind dim visions of my earliest infancy 
wild, confused, and thronging memories of a time when memory 
herself was yet unborn. I cannot better describe the sensation 
which oppressed me than by saying that I could with difficulty 
shake off the belief of my having been acquainted with the 
being who stood before me, at some epoch very long ago some 
point of the past even infinitely remote. The delusion, how 
ever, faded rapidly as it came; and I mention it at all but to 
define the day of the last conversation I there held with my 
singular namesake. 

The huge old house, with its countless subdivisions, had 
several large chambers communicating with each other, where 
slept the greater number of the students. There were, how 
ever (as must necessarily happen in a building so awkwardly 
planned), many little nooks or recesses, the odds and ends of the 
structure; and these the economic ingenuity of Dr. Bransby 
had also fitted up as dormitories; although, being the merest 
closets, they were capable of accommodating but a single in 
dividual. One of these small apartments was occupied by Wilson. 

1 2 Poe's Tales 

One night, about the close of my fifth year at the school, and 
immediately after the altercation just mentioned, finding every 
one wrapped in sleep, I arose from bed, and, lamp in hand, 
stole through a wilderness of narrow passages from my own bed 
room to that of my rival. I had long been plotting one of 
those ill-natured pieces of practical wit at his expense in which 
I had hitherto been so uniformly unsuccessful. It was my 
intention, now, to put my scheme in operation, and I resolved 
to make him feel the whole extent of the malice with which I 
was imbued. Having reached his closet, I noiselessly entered, 
leaving the lamp, with a shade over it, on the outside. I ad 
vanced a step, and listened to the sound of his tranquil breathing. 
Assured of his being asleep, I returned, took the light, and with 
it again approached the bed. Close curtains were around it, 
which, in the prosecution of my plan, I slowly and quietly with 
drew, when the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and 
my eyes, at the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked ; 
and a numbness, an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my 
frame. My breast heaved, my knees tottered, my whole spirit 
became possessed with an objectless yet intolerable horror. 
Gasping for breath, I lowered the lamp in still nearer proximity 
to the face. Were these these the lineaments of William Wil 
son ? I saw, indeed, that they were his, but I shook as if with 
a fit of the ague in fancying they were not. What was there 
about them to confound me in this manner? I gazed; while 
my brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts. Not 
thus he appeared assuredly not thus in the vivacity of his 
waking hours. The same name I the same contour of person! 
the same day of arrival at the academy 1 And then his dogged 
and meaningless imitation of my gait, my voice, my habits, and 
my manner! Was it, in truth, within the bounds of human 
possibility, that what I now saw was the result, merely, of the 
habitual practice of this sarcastic imitation ? Awestricken, and 
with a creeping shudder, I extinguished the lamp, passed silently 
from the chamber, and left, at once, the halls of that old academy, 
never to enter them again. 

After a lapse of some months, spent at home in mere idleness, 
I found myself a student at Eton. The brief interval had been 
sufficient to enfeeble my remembrance of the events at Dr. 
Bransby's, or at least to effect a material change in the nature 
of the feelings with which I remembered them. The truth 
the tragedy of the drama was no more. I could now find 
room to doubt the evidence of my senses; and seldom called up 

William Wilson 13 

the subject at all but with wonder at the extent of human 
credulity, and a smile at the vivid force of the imagination 
which I hereditarily possessed. Neither was this species of 
scepticism likely to be diminished by the character of the life I 
led at Eton. The vortex of thoughtless folly into which I there 
so immediately and so recklessly plunged, washed away all but 
the froth of my past hours, engulfed at once every solid or 
serious impression, and left to memory only the veriest levities 
of a former existence. 

I do not wish, however, to trace the course of my miserable 
profligacy here a profligacy which set at defiance the laws, 
while it eluded the vigilance of the institution. Three years of 
folly, passed without profit, had but given me rooted habits of 
vice, and added, in a somewhat unusual degree, to my bodily 
stature, when, after a week of soulless dissipation, I invited a 
small party of the most dissolute students to a secret carousal 
in my chambers. We met at a late hour of the night; for our 
debaucheries were to be faithfully protracted until morning. 
The wine flowed freely, and there were not wanting other and 
perhaps more dangerous seductions; so that the grey dawn had 
already faintly appeared in the east, while our delirious extrava 
gance was at its height. Madly flushed with cards and intoxi 
cation, I was in the act of insisting upon a toast of more than 
wonted profanity, when my attention was suddenly diverted by 
the violent, although partial unclosing of the door of the apart 
ment, and by the eager voice of a servant from without. He 
said that some person, apparently in great haste, demanded to 
speak with me in the hall. 

Wildly excited with wine, the unexpected interruption rather 
delighted than surprised me. I staggered forward at once, and 
a few steps brought me to the vestibule of the building. In 
this low and small room there hung no lamp; and now no light 
at all was admitted, save that of the exceedingly feeble dawn 
which made its way through the semi-circular window. As I 
put my foot over the threshold, I became aware of the figure of 
a youth about my own height, and habited in a white kersey 
mere morning frock, cut in the novel fashion of the one I myself 
wore at the moment. This the faint light enabled me to per 
ceive; but the features of his face I could not distinguish. 
Upon my entering he strode hurriedly up to me, and, seizing 
me by the arm with a gesture of petulant impatience, whispered 
the words " William Wilson ! " in my ear. 

I grew perfectly sober in an instant.